New York, NY– Any excitement the New York Islanders carried into their first preseason game against the New York Rangers was immediately sucked out of Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night, as goals from Kaapo Kakko, Tyler Pitlick and Chris Kreider within the game’s first three minutes gave the Rangers an early lead. One that proved to be insurmountable for the Islanders, who lost 4-2.
“We did some good things,” Islanders head coach Lane Lambert said. “Certainly, [there were] moments in the rest of the game that we have to improve on. A couple of turnovers early that cost us. You look at that, but you take the positives. Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
Twenty seconds after the opening faceoff, Isaiah George made a crisp pass right to the tape of Pierre Engvall. The only problem was that the puck didn’t stick.
Instead, it bounced off the blade of Engvall’s stick and in front of an opportunistic Kakko, who fired a shot to beat Islanders netminder Semyon Varlamov high glove-side.
There wasn’t much Varlamov could do to save Kakko’s goal, but his mishandling of a rebound moments later resulted in another Rangers score courtesy of Pitlick.
By the time Kreider scored off a breakaway, Varlamov had allowed three goals on the first six shots he faced.
In the second period, Ranger newcomer Blake Wheeler added one more goal for good measure.
But while the scoreboard read the Islanders lost, the preseason is more about moral victories.
Arnaud Durandeau had two points in the game, scoring a goal in the third period while also providing the primary assist on William Dufour’s score on the power play. Even with his strong effort, Durandeau feels he could have done more.
“It’s always nice to get points,” Durandeau said. “There’s a lot more I can do. Being more defensively aware and getting the pucks out. It’s the first preseason game, so of course, it’s nice to score a goal and get an assist, but there’s a lot of stuff I got to work on and get better at.”
All prospects have room to improve, which is why the Islanders have paired many of them with veterans on the team this preseason. Dufour started the game on the top line with Engvall and Brock Nelson, while Maggio skated with Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Anders Lee.
As for George, he was paired alongside Ryan Pulock. At the end of the first period, George took a scary hit from Rangers center Matt Rempe that sent him sprawling to the ice.
The 19-year-old defenseman did stay in the game, but that didn’t excuse Rempe from the hit, at least not in the eyes of Ross Johnston.
Twice did Johnston make his presence felt in the game, dropping the gloves with Rempe as well as getting into it with Vincent Trocheck, who delivered a knee-to-knee hit to Maggio.
Johnston is seemingly on the bubble on the Islanders’s roster bubble this preseason, with the team having little space on its roster and even less in cap space.
“[Johnston] is trying to play the role that he has,” Lambert said. “He’s trying to make the hockey team as well.”
We shall see if Johnston manages to keep his role as the Islanders continue their preseason schedule before eventually cutting down the roster.
The Islanders play their second game of the preseason against the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night at UBS Arena.